Tipping minefield: will New York restaurant's gratuities ban prompt change?

It looks like the tipping point may have been reached when it comes to gratuities in New York's restaurant scene. The Union Square Hospitality Group  which owns some of the top restaurants in Manhattan, will be banning the practice of tipping in their restaurants over the next year. The first restaurant to adopt the policy will be The Modern in the Museum of Modern Art.

The restaurant group owns some of New York's most popular fine-dining locations, such as the Gramercy Tavern, and employs over 1800 staff across a dozen locations. The move, therefore, is seen as potentially having a real impact across the city.

Top New York restaurants have banned gratuities

Top New York restaurants have banned gratuities Image by Nan Palmero / CC BY 2.0

The group has said a no-tipping policy would help resolve the confusing practice of tipping in the US, aligning it with European and Asian customs, where tipping is not commonly practiced. The group also pointed to the benefits that a no-tipping policy would have for their staff, saying in a statement: "For our teams the change will be significant. We will now have the ability to compensate all of our employees equitably, competitively, and professionally." The group did mention too, that their prices would have to go up to allow for the decision, but that they wouldn't go up "by much".

Manhattan skyline visible from the Long Island waterfront property on sale for $100m.

Manhattan skyline visible from the Long Island waterfront property on sale for $100m. Will  a no tipping policy change eating out in the city? Image by joiseyshowaa / CC BY-SA 2.0

The announcement has its critics however, with people calling the move a greedy stunt on the part of the businesses, with some comparing it to a similar case from August of this year when UK restaurant group Bill's was accused of pocketing the obligatory service charge instead of distributing it among its staff. Most recently Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant changed its tipping policy, which saw tips being taken by the restaurant and redistributed among  the staff. The move backfired, with staff taking to social media to complain of being short-changed. Similar situations occurred with Pizza Express, who were forced to redact their changed tipping policy due to the volume of complaints from customers and staff.

However, no-tipping policies are in all likelihood going to become increasingly popular across the US, where trailblazing restaurants like California's Chez Panise have had a no-tipping policy for many years.

Tipping: best practice 

North America has always stood out for having a tipping culture at odds with the rest of the world. New York tips can be as much as 25% with a US standard of approximately 15-20%.

In Europe, tipping is not normally practiced in either bars or cafés, but 10% is generally regarded as the standard tip to leave in restaurants. But  even across Europe tipping culture can differ hugely, with Italy and France having a far less strict approach to tipping than the UK, whilst Denmark and Sweden have next to no tipping culture.

Across Asia the differences are even larger, with tipping being actually considered at times insulting in China and Korea. Popular traveler destinations may often adopt a European model for tipping, with the likes of Thailand and the Philippines having a adopted a 10% tip as standard practice.

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